Stanford study finds high energy use provides little benefit for health and well-being in richer nations

by Josie Garthwaite, Stanford University
April 12, 2022

A good, long life requires energy: to illuminate hospitals, homes and schools, and make it possible to work, cook meals and study without inhaling toxic smoke or spending a full day collecting fuel. But at some point, energy stops being the limiting factor for well-being.

New research from Stanford University suggests that point – the threshold beyond which greater energy use loses its link to national-level improvements in measures of health, economy and environment – is surprisingly low.

The results, published April 12 in Ecosphere, suggest nations with high per capita energy use, such as the United States and Canada, could scale back consumption while maintaining or even improving well-being. Countries where energy poverty remains a challenge, meanwhile, may be able to maximize national health and prosperity with far less energy than scholars once thought.

The authors found today’s average global energy consumption of 79 gigajoules per person could, in principle, allow everyone on Earth to approach the “maximum health, happiness and environmental well-being of the most prosperous countries today,” if distributed equitably.

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